Fall's Gold

Fall leaves start out as the perfect autumn accent to your still green lawn. But before you know it they can pile up so thick that they threaten the future of that lawn altogether. If you leave them where they are through the winter, you may never see your green grass again. 

But what are the options? The most common ways of dealing with fall leaves are also the least green. These include stuffing leaves into non-biodegradable plastic garbage bags and carting them off to the landfill and burning the leaves. Burning a leaf pile risks starting a larger brush or house fire. It also pollutes, releasing harmful compounds that irritate our lungs and can be especially dangerous to children, the elderly, and those with respiratory illness. For all these reasons, burning leaves is actually illegal in many places.

A better idea is to use all these beautiful leaves to enrich the environment surrounding your home. Here are some greener strategies.

Raking doesn’t blow

It probably goes with out saying that a human-powered rake is a lot greener than a gas-powered blower. Plus it’s a great workout for your whole body!

Compost

Rake your leaves and collect them in a bin to use throughout the year in your composter. Whenever you dump kitchen scraps into the composter, stir the compost as usual and add a layer of leaves over the top. Cutting up the leaves with a mower can help speed the decomposition process.

Mulch
While composting requires you to wait until the leaves decompose to reap the benefits, mulching yields more immediate gratification. Mulch can feed your lawn or garden as well as suppress weeds and protect the soil or grass from the elements. To enrich your lawn, use your mower to shred the leaves and use a rake to distribute them evenly as a thin layer. Leave them to work their magic through the winter. You can also use shredded leaves to mulch individual plants or your garden. A layer of shredded leaves can provide the necessary protection for the last crops of the year like carrots or kale. Avoid putting too thick a layer of leaves directly against the trunk of trees or shrubs. This can invite pests. 

To fight weeds, place a thicker layer of leaves on garden paths or anywhere you’d rather never see a weed again. Avoid using shredded leaves for this purpose, or you risk composting and possibly doubling your weed crop.

So the golden rule for the fall is don't treat your fallen leaves like garbage. Put them to good use and you'll reap the rewards for the rest of the year. Hey, that's one of the best returns on investments available these days. 

Kimberly Delaney is the author of Clean Home, Green Home: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Eco-Friendly Homekeeping, forthcoming this fall from the Knack imprint of Globe Pequot Press.

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